What are your ideas on parenting?

Well, the only really profound idea I've had about parenting has to be that when my child(ren) reaches the age of 18 I want to drop them off in a strange city on the other side of the country. I will provide them with five hundred dollars, a 1987 Volkswagen Scirocco, and a bag of clothing. Then I shall let them figure out the real world for a year or so. It did wonders for me. My strange city was Sacramento.

Don't lie to them.
Don't teach them to lie.
This includes telling them to say they're sorry when they aren't. That's a lie.
And there is no Santa Claus.

"Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners."

what i didn't realize until only recently that i missed from my childhood was being talked to, and more importantly, being talked to as if i was a real, legitimate person. it would have been considerable motivation to say more, think aloud more, and be less afraid of being among other people. some friends who are parents and some friends who are children of various vintages seem to bear this out: talking with them as though the things they think and feel are valid (which they are!) is the one thing all mention at one time or another.

When I was a young mother, bonny blonde babe nursing in pods of similarly suburbanised females in deep and meaningful discussion on the bringing-up of children and preparing them for life, we said thinks like - "I won't let my child find out about sex the way I did" - and - "Frank and open discussion about sex, because it's a beautiful thing." The conclusion after many Play Centre Morning Teas was to answer any questions concerning sex and reproduction, in a frank and honest way as required. The children would of course, ask the questions as they developed and as they needed to know, so in a completely holistic and natural way, they would learn about sex and reproduction from their parents, and learn that making love and creating life was a truely beautiful thing, thereby ensuring their sexual confidence, freedom and enhancing their close and loving relationship with us, their Parents.

So I was ready, prepared, and slipped into the domestic bliss that is motherhood. Until one day, when my five year old son came out of my room and into the lounge, a condom in one hand and a tampon in the other and asked "What are these for?"

According to the Grand Plan, I was to explain to my son, that sometimes people used a condom to cover daddy's penis during sex to stop the daddy's sperm after orgasm, from fertilising the mummy's egg, and that the tampon is used by mummy when she has her menstrual bleed every 28 days when her egg hasnt been fertilised by daddy's sperm, using any or all additional sketches, diagrams and overhead projector equipment where required. Unfortuately, best laid plans of mice and men, I went crashing into Improvisaion Mode and screamed, after a moment of stunned silence, "PUT THOSE BACK IN MY DRAWER AND NEVER EVER TO INTO MY BEDROOM AGAIN" .... "EVER" and when he did that I finished with "NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM AND STAY THERE UNTIL I TELL YOU TO COME OUT".

The first question my son ever asked me about sex, and I failed to slip into my Nurturing Role as a Bull slips in a China Shop. I didn't go and talk to him later and explain it was shock and inadequacy that drove me to yell at him, I just pretended it never happened. On with my Life. Until my next parenting test.

This time it was from my second child, a daughter. After a Sexual Health talk at school, she leaned elbows on my desk, chin cupped in her hands, golden ringlets falling about her face "Mum, what if i get the white discharge telling me my period's coming on the day I'm wearing white underwear, and then get my period on the day I'm wearing red underwear. How will I know I have my period?" This wasn't in the Mothering Manual. In the Manual it explains about ovaries and uterus walls. The Improvisation Mode kicks in and I sharply declare her a stupid girl and send her to her room.

I have had many many parenting tests over the years, and have blanked out all memory of the events and consistantly failed to impliment the Grand Plans of those early parenting discussions. My children are teenagers now, and I send them regularly to the streets to learn what they need to learn for life. My mantra at afternoon teas with mothers of their peers include "I don't care what they do so long as they are happy" and " What I don't know can't hurt me".

The best thing any parent can do for their child is consider the world from the child’s perspective, while remembering to maintain their own sense of self.

If they are small, get down on the floor and check out what they see. Read them at least five hundred books. Kiss their bread dough cheeks, make noises, goofy dances and silly stuff out of paper. Let them dig their toes in the mud. Let them go out in the rain. Allow them to get mad.

If they are teenagers, remember what life was like for you at that age, remember how frustrating it was sometimes when older people pretended you were just a punk with no clue about the world. When adults pretended they were entitled to belittle your every aspiration because they had a few years on you, coupled with some crushing financial problems and a deep need to pass along the gripes of their own parents and bosses.

Ask your kids what they think, and listen without correcting their opinions. If they say something scary remember that they are trying on perspectives like different hats. Allow them to be different than you.

Ask yourself how YOU would have wanted to be treated when you went to your Mom and said you were going to move to Hollywood, or that you accidentally spilled Kool-Aid on the new rug. Now keep a straight face, level head and unshrill voice when you tell them what you feel about that from your new perspective.

Respect them as people, not “potential adults”. Allow them make mistakes. Listen when they come to you and tell you they screwed up. Don't fix it for them.

Tell them you are sorry when you know you have fucked up (and you will, it's best to just admit it.)

Teach them how to find information, starting from a topic they are interested in. Admit it when you do not know the answer and go with them to find it.

Teach them to feel the difference between right and wrong so that they can spot it even when you can't be there to point it out for them.

Be true to your own self. Martyrdom will not make your family life any better. If you want to do something with your life, find a way. Don't blame it on the kids if you put your dreams in a little box in the closet. None of that "I could have been a famous artist if not for you meddling kids!" bullshit. You will have great moments of unease, just go with it and get on with it. If you fuck up it is not their fault. If you never do anything other than parent your kids, that's just fine. That's enough. But if you have some big dream of bungee jumping off every cliff, or taking a go cart across the country, or writing a 20,000 line poem about the funk you found in the bathroom drain, just do it. If you do not, your mediocrity or subsequent alcoholism is not the fault of anyone but yourself.

As a departure from the nice philosophical nodes above (most of which I like), I will combine two things that have already been mentioned:
1. Read to your kids.
2. Talk to them and ask their opinions.

An anthropological study was recently done on the different ways in which parents teach their kids to read. Among one group, the parents only occasionally read to their children. They did not talk to their kids much, and never bothered to help them learn their language. Obviously, this didn't do much for the kids.

Among another group, the parents would sit down and read to the children starting as early as 6 months. However, the parents were expecting too much out of the child's attention span: when the child's attention wandered, the parents kept trying to bring the child back to the book rather than start a conversation with the child about what they were doing / interested in. Mistake #2: The parents made no effort to connect pictures and words in books with real-world things; the parents also never asked the child's opinion on anything. This made it difficult for the child to take things in the book out of their context and consider them in a different one. Third mistake: the parents discouraged questions once the children got old enough to ask them: the parents would urge their children to sit and listen quietly.
These actions had a devastating effect on the child's ability to take something out of its origional context and evaluate it in a different context. It almost completely destroyed the child's ability to formulate opinions for themselves on something they had read. When asked about a character in a story, "what would you do if you were Billy?" these kids only respond with shrugs. They have no idea how to even begin thinking about this question.
The really sucky thing is, once a child gets to this point by age 3, this conditioning is irreversible. These kids are doomed for life to be second-rate scholars because they have no critical thinking skills.

So, what can you do?

  • Start reading to your child as early as 6 months. Use books with pictures. Don't worry about alphabet books - they really don't help your child under age 3 or 4 with anything; it's like trying to get your kid to know the alphabet by rote memorization, and that's not going to do them a bit of good. They teach the alphabet in kindergarten anyways, and by then, your child will have seen so many letters and words that they should pick up on it fairly quickly.
  • Whatever your child is interested in, talk to them about it. Engage in conversation. Even if it's not the book you were trying to read to them; if you can, draw parallels between your child's current interest and the book. Their attention span will be really short at first, and their "conversation" may seem limited to you - but remember, they learn by exposure.
  • Make sure you help the child make connections between the objects and words in books and rl objects. If you have recently read to your child about a duck, point out the ducks to your child the next time you see some, and make sure they remember reading about them.
  • Ask your child questions ranging from "what color is that?" to "do you like the whatever?" to "what do you think about XYZ?" to "what would this animal do if it were in a forest instead of the mountains?" At first, intersperse these questions throughout a reading. As your child gets older, around 3, they will be able to listen to a sizable chunck of story - and remember enough about it that you can save most of the conversation Q&A until the end. This further stretches their mental capacity.

The methods described above were found, in a third group, to be highly effective in encouraging the language development of kids; they turned into what we think of "normal" scholarly students - the kind that goes to college.

I can dig out the text in which this study is found and cite it, if desired.

Dear Parents,

I am a so called "troubled child". When you are given that label, you are stripped of being a kid anymore.

I cannot communicate my wants and needs with the outside world correctly.

I internalize emotions.

I have a lot of "potential".

No matter how many clothes you buy for me, I still suffer from low self esteem and a lack of self respect and self worth.

Dear Parents,

You took your free time and misplaced concern and threw money at my problems.

I am sent to therapy once a week, I have to go to eating disorder group therapy, and I have a psychiatric evaluation for medication coming up tomorrow.

Dear Parents,

My life is a living hell.

There is not a day goes by that I consider my own death as a way around your new methods of "parenting for the year 2000" my psychologist suggests.

As a way out from you trying to talk to me all the time about what I think and feel, and why I think and feel that way, and how much it really hurts your feelings when I give you attitude (disregard being a normal teenager at this point).

As a way of me being able to stop explaining to friends why I can do things Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons. So people can stop wondering why I have to go to the "doctor" so often.

Dear Parents,

When your teenagers have problems, please don't leap to the conclusion that they're something that can be cured with drugs and opening up to strangers.

Please don't conclude that they're obviously led astray by the wrong kinds of kids because they netted a C+ in math.

As only one girl trapped in an inescapable web of psycho-therapy, my point is not to ignore a problem.

Just not to think that everyone else knows how to make them go away.

Respect your child and his/her privacy. Expect them to respect you and yours. Under no circumstance should a parent search a child's room without the expressed consent of the child. Do not read their journals. Don't look under their bed. Don't read their emails. Don't check their computer's histories. Don't listen in on their conversations. Expect the same courtesy from them.

Raise a child to be an adult, and then trust yourself to have done a good job, and trust them to have paid attention.

Only praise them for good reasons, and look for as many reasons as possible to praise them.

Teach them to find beauty, without telling them what beauty is to you.

Give them all the trust, respect, and freedom you can afford them, and only take these things away when they prove they cannot handle them. Chances are, given the opportunity, they will prove they can handle all these things, and much more.
A poster I read when I was a teenager stays with me still:

There are two things a parent can give a child. The first is roots and the second is wings.

If I were a parent, I'd give my child one more thing: An understanding of community. Modern society seems to have completely eliminated our ability to behave as and feel part of community. This, I feel, is the root of many of our problems.

Communities, for one thing, help an individual to distinguish between social and antisocial behavior. The members of the community give feedback when individuals behave in inappropriate ways. This is critically important when raising a future responsible adult.

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